So I decided it would be nice to do a blog about the Christmas traditions here in Aix because they are interesting and so different from ours in the US. One of the most southern things about France at Christmas time is that there are a ton of Christmas markets! It is kind of like a Saturday market but open from mid-November until Christmas. Here in Aix they do a a sort of fair where there are rides for the younger kids. They also have special foods like vin chaud d’Alsace which is hot wine with extra spices from the Alsace region of France. Alsace along with Lorraine were sections of France that were added later, so a lot of French people do not consider these regions as being a “real part of France”. They were under control of Germany before and therefore have very strong German influences. There are also other special Christmas foods like cotton candy which are called Santa beards, sugar covered sweet pretzels, and chocolate heads which are a waffle cracker with a big marshmallow on it covered in chocolate. I can say that I have tried them all, and they are all very good! I have even tried a pomme d’amour or “apple of love” which is a candied apple. It is named after the Disney movie Snow White where the witch candies a green apple very red for Snow White and only True Love can break the spell of the sleeping death!
One of the most Provencal decorations for Christmas here are Santons. Santons are hand sculpted clay figurines that are then painted by hand. The way that you start a collection here is pretty interesting. The first year you are supposed to buy the nativity scene with the basic Mary, Joseph, baby Christ in the manger, the donkey, the cow, and the angel plus the barn. This is a pretty expensive investment, as because everything is made by hand to get just those basics is about the US equivalent of about a hundred dollars. It is a very expensive collection! The year after you buy the basics, you are supposed to buy the three wise men and the angel. Then the following years you buy one item to add to your collection. One figurine is anywhere from 6-12 euros each, so it is more do-able after you have the initial start up. At all of the Christmas markets here you can easily find Santons. They are breakable so I haven’t bought any and don’t plan on it before I leave, but they are very fun to look at in each shop. They come in different sizes and are very cool!
Another tradition here, it planting wheat on the fourth of December which is the day of the feast of Saint Barbe. The idea of planting wheat is that if it grows tall by Christmas, then the next harvest in France will be bountiful. But it also predicts if you will have good fortune in the coming year. Traditionally, you also are supposed to put the grown wheat on the table as a centerpiece on Christmas day or you can use it to decorate your nativity scene. My host mom planted hers with my host brother, who is her grandson. I am kind of excited to watch it grow because I wonder how quickly or how tall it will really grow! My host mom says it should be more than 5 inches tall before I leave in two weeks so it must grow fast!